Trucking is one of those things many people normally don’t think much about. But these aren’t normal times.
The coronavirus pandemic has Montana’s trucking industry working overtime to keep supply chains moving.
By Barry ‘Spook’ Stang’s reckoning there are a few sectors these days deserving of special recognition: public health care, service industry and grocery store employees to name a few.
But Stang, the executive director of Motor Carriers of Montana, an industry group representing over 300 local trucking interests, would be remiss if he forgot to mention long-haul truckers.
"If something happens to the trucking industry it doesn’t take long for your grocery stores to have empty shelves."
Too many shelves are already bare due to ongoing and unnecessary COVID 19-related panic buying and hoarding -- though experts say supply chains are uninterrupted and there is no shortage of food.
Stang says truckers are doing their best to keep up with the demand.
"There's pictures of trucks lined up for over a mile, for example, in front of a Procter & Gamble distribution center that distributes cleaning supplies and toilet paper. Those trucks may sit in that line for seven, eight hours while they wait to get loaded before they can get on the road to deliver to your local grocery store."
The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates national trucking operations, recently lifted hourly driving restrictions. That permits drivers hauling everything from groceries and paper products to critical medical supplies to spend more hours on the road than normal.
"This is the first time in my 20 years here that I’ve seen a nationwide relaxation of these rules to try to get food on the shelves."
Stang adds its important that truckers don’t push themselves to the point of unsafe driving. He says trucking companies do a good job of tracking their fleets to ensure drivers get enough rest.
Those drivers are already facing more scrutiny. The Wall Street Journal reports some shippers and receivers now demand drivers sign affidavits saying they aren’t sick.
Industry groups are asking truck stops be allowed to stay open even as many other restaurants and service-oriented business are shuttering in the name of public health.
"The truck stops across the country are kind of the lifeline for truckers if they run out of fuel or they can’t eat," Stang says.
Many truck stops are now shifting from a sit-in dining arrangement to a curb-side take out model.